Quotations about   misery

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Whoever increases the sum of human joy, is a worshipper.

He who adds to the sum of human misery, is a blasphemer.

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899) American lawyer, agnostic, orator
Speech to the Jury, Trial of C. B. Reynolds for Blasphemy, Morristown, New Jersey (May 1887)
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Added on 20-Oct-21 | Last updated 20-Oct-21
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Now, do you think this could possibly happen to a wise person, to be subject to distress in this way? That is, to misery? For every emotion is a misery, but distress is a very torture-chamber. Desire scalds us; wild delight makes us giddy; fear degrades us, but the effects of distress are worse: gauntness, pain, depression, disfigurement. It eats away at the mind and, in a word, destroys it. This we must shed; this we must cast away, or else remain in misery.

[Hoc tu igitur censes sapienti accidere posse, ut aegritudine opprimatur, id est miseria? nam cum omnis perturbatio miseria est, tum carnificina est aegritudo. habet ardorem libido, levitatem laetitia gestiens, humilitatem metus, sed aegritudo maiora quaedam, tabem cruciatum adflictationem foeditatem, lacerat exest animum planeque conficit. hanc nisi exuimus sic ut abiciamus, miseria carere non possumus.]

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC) Roman orator, statesman, philosopher
Tusculan Disputations [Tusculanae Disputationes], Book 3, ch. 13 / sec. 27 (45 BC) [tr. Graver (2002)]
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(Source (Latin)). Alternate translations:

Now do you think this possible to befall a wise man, to be overwhelm'd with Discontent, that is, with Misery? For whereas every Passion is Misery, Discontent is a Rack. Lust hath its Scorching; Fond Pleasure its Levity; Fear a meanness of Spirit; but Discontent carrieth along with it more destructive Evils; a Consumption, Torture, Vexation, Deformity. It tears, it frets the Soul like a Canker, and utterly brings it to Destruction. Unless we put off this, so as to cast it away, we can never want for Misery.
[tr. Wase (1643)]

Do you then think it can befall a wise man to be oppressed with grief, i.e., with misery? For, as all perturbation is misery, grief is the rack itself; lust is attended with heat; exulting joy with levity; fear with a meanness; but grief is something greater than these; it consumes, torments, afflicts, and disgraces a man; it tears him, preys upon him, and quite puts an end to him. If we do not divest ourselves so of it, as to throw it quite off, we cannot be free from misery.
[tr. Main (1824)]

then, dost think this may occur to the wise man, that he should be oppressed with sorrow, -- that is, with misery? For, while every perturbation is misery, sorrow is misery in torture. Cupidity has ardour, exulting joy levity, fear humiliation; but sorrow implies something greater, -- infection, torment, prostration, pollution; it lacerates, it gnaws the mind, and consumes it utterly. Unless we strip it off, so as to cast it from us, we cannot escape misery.
[tr. Otis (1839)]

Do you, then, think that it can befall a wise man to be oppressed with grief, that is to say, with misery? for, as all perturbation is misery, grief is the rack itself. Lust is attended with heat, exulting joy with levity, fear with meanness, but grief with something greater than these; it consumes, torments, afflicts, and disgraces a man; it tears him, preys upon his mind, and utterly destroys him: if we do not so divest ourselves of it as to throw it completely off, we cannot be free from misery.
[tr. Yonge (1853)]

Do you then think that it can happen to a wise man to be overcome by grief, that is, by misery ? Nay more, while every perturbation of the soul is misery, grief is torture. Lust is attended by ardor, ecstatic joy by levity, fear by abjectness; but grief has, worse than all these, wasting, torment, distress, noisomeness. It lacerates, corrodes and utterly consumes the soul. Unless we so divest ourselves of it as to throw it entirely away, we cannot be otherwise than miserable.
[tr. Peabody (1886)]

Added on 16-Aug-21 | Last updated 16-Aug-21
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But aren’t we, the living, wretched since we must die? What pleasure can there be in life, when day and night we must reflect that we have to die, and at any moment?

[Qui vivimus, cum moriendum sit, nonne miseri sumus? quae enim potest in vita esse iucunditas, cum dies et noctes cogitandum sit iam iamque esse moriendum?]

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC) Roman orator, statesman, philosopher
Tusculan Disputations [Tusculanae Disputationes], Book 1, ch. 7 / sec. 14 [Auditor] (45 BC) [tr. Douglas (1985)]
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(Source (Latin)). Alternate translations:

What say you of us that are alive, can we be other than miserable, since we must die? for what enjoyment can there be in life, when we are to think day and night that die we must of a certain, and it is uncertain whether this or the next Moment?
[tr. Wase (1643)]

What then? we that are alive, are we not wretched, seeing we must die? for what is there agreeable in life, when we must night and day reflect that we may instantly die?
[tr. Main (1824)]

But what? as to us who are alive, are we not miserable? For, what pleasantness can there be in life, when, by night and by day, we have to reflect already, even already, we are to die?
[tr. Otis (1839)]

What then? we that are alive, are we not wretched, seeing we must die? for what is there agreeable in life, when we must night and day reflect that, at some time or other, we must die?
[tr. Yonge (1853)]

Yet are not we who live miserable, seeing that we must die? For what pleasure can there be in life, while by day and by night we cannot but think that we may die at any moment?
[tr. Peabody (1886)]

But how then? Are not we, who live, miserable, seeing that we must die? For what pleasure can there be in life when, night and day, the thought cannot fail to haunt us, that at any moment we must die?
[tr. Black (1889)]

Aren't the living miserable, since we have to die? What joy can there be in life if day and night we are forced to consider the inevitable approach of death?
[tr. Habinek (1996)]

Are we not wretched, we who live though we must die? What joy can there be in life, when we must think day and night that we must at some time die?
[tr. @sententiq (2016)]

Added on 26-Jul-21 | Last updated 13-Sep-21
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Try not to pay attention to those who will try to make life miserable for you. There will be a lot of those — in the official capacity as well as the self-appointed. Suffer them if you can’t escape them, but once you have steered clear of them, give them the shortest shrift possible.

Joseph Brodsky (1940-1996) Russian-American poet, essayist, Nobel laureate, US Poet Laureate [Iosif Aleksandrovič Brodskij]
“Speech at the Stadium,” Commencement Address, University of Michigan (18 Dec 1988)
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Oftentimes, when people are miserable, they will want to make other people miserable, too. But it never helps.

Lemony Snicket (b. 1970) American author, screenwriter, musician (pseud. for Daniel Handler)
The Wide Window (2000)
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Added on 9-Dec-20 | Last updated 9-Dec-20
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There is no happiness in life, there is no misery, like that growing out of the dispositions which consecrate or desecrate a home.

Edwin Hubbell Chapin (1814-1880) American clergyman
Living Words (1860)
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Added on 2-Oct-20 | Last updated 2-Oct-20
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Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
The Tempest, Act 3, sc. 2 [Trinculo] (1610-11)
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Added on 28-Sep-20 | Last updated 28-Sep-20
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If it be true, that men are miserable because they are wicked, it is likewise true, that many are wicked because they are miserable.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) English poet and critic
Aids to Reflection, “Prudential Aphorisms II” (1831 ed.)
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Added on 31-Aug-20 | Last updated 31-Aug-20
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If life becomes hard to bear we think of a change in our circumstances. But the most important and effective change, a change in our own attitude, hardly even occurs to us, and the resolution to take such a step is very difficult for us.

Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) Austrian-English philosopher
Culture and Value, 1946 (1977) [tr. Winch (1980)]
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He imagined the pain of the world to be like some formless parasitic being seeking out the warmth of human souls wherein to incubate and he thought he knew what made one liable to its visitations. What he had not known was that it was mindless and so had no way to know the limits of those souls and what he feared was that there might be no limits.

Cormac McCarthy (b. 1933) American novelist, playwright, screenwriter
All the Pretty Horses (1992)
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Added on 24-Feb-20 | Last updated 24-Feb-20
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He who has so little knowledge of human nature, as to seek happiness by changing any thing but his own dispositions, will waste his life in fruitless efforts, and multiply the griefs which he purposes to remove.

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) English writer, lexicographer, critic
The Rambler # 6 (7 Apr 1750)
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A stranger to human nature, who saw the indifference of men about the misery of their inferiors, and the regret and indignation which they feel for the misfortunes and sufferings of those above them, would be apt to imagine that pain must be more agonizing, and the convulsions of death more terrible, to people of higher rank than to those of meaner stations.

Adam Smith (1723-1790) Scottish economist
The Theory of Moral Sentiments, 1.3.2 (1759)
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He who walks through a great city to find subjects for weeping, may, God knows, find plenty at every corner to wring his heart; but let such a man walk on his course, and enjoy his grief alone — we are not of those who would accompany him. The miseries of us poor earthdwellers gain no alleviation from the sympathy of those who merely hunt them out to be pathetic over them. The weeping philosopher too often impairs his eyesight by his woe, and becomes unable from his tears to see the remedies for the evils which he deplores. Thus it will often be found that the man of no tears is the truest philanthropist, as he is the best physician who wears a cheerful face, even in the worst of cases.

Charles Mackay (1814-1889) Scottish poet, journalist, song writer
Extraordinary Popular Delusions And The Madness Of Crowds (1841)
Added on 19-Aug-16 | Last updated 19-Aug-16
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Most men make use of the first part of their life to render the last part miserable.

Jean de La Bruyère (1645-1696) French essayist, moralist
Les Caractères, “De l’Homme” (1688)
Added on 20-Jul-16 | Last updated 20-Jul-16
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We make ourselves miserable by first closing ourselves off from reality and then collecting this and that in an attempt to make ourselves happy by possessing happiness. But happiness is not something I have, it is something I myself want to be. Trying to be happy by accumulating possessions is like trying to satisfy hunger by taping sandwiches all over my body.

Corless - taping sandwiches - wist_info quote

Roger J. Corless (1938–2007) Anglo-American religious academic, Buddhist scholar, ecumenicist
Vision of Buddhism: the Space Under the Tree (1989)

The last sentence is frequently misattributed to George Carlin (with "your body").
Added on 11-Jul-16 | Last updated 11-Jul-16
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I live my life in celebration and in praise of the life I’m living. What you focus on expands. The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate. The more you complain, the more you find fault, the more misery and fault you will have to find.

Oprah Winfrey (b. 1954) American TV personality, actress
“Words of the Week,” Jet (27 Oct 1986)
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Added on 13-May-16 | Last updated 13-May-16
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There are two means of refuge from the misery of life: music and cats.

Schweitzer - music and cats - wist_info quote

Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965) Alsatian theologian, philosopher, physician, philanthropist
(Attributed)
Added on 3-May-16 | Last updated 3-May-16
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The secret of being miserable is to have leisure to bother about whether you are happy or not. The cure for it is occupation.

Shaw - miserable - wist_info quote

George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) British playwright and critic
Treatise on Parents and Children, “Children’s Happiness” (1914)
Added on 17-Dec-15 | Last updated 17-Dec-15
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SYDNEY: You don’t seem to realize that a poor person who is unhappy is in a better position than a rich person who is unhappy. Because the poor person has hope. He thinks money would help.

Jean Kerr (1922-2003) American author and playwright [b. Bridget Jean Collins]
Poor Richard, Act 1 (1965)
Added on 12-Oct-15 | Last updated 12-Oct-15
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Why is it that we rejoice at a birth and grieve at a funeral? It is because we are not the person involved.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson, ch. 7 epigraph “Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar” (1894)
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That thro certain Humours or Passions, and from Temper merely, a Man may be completely miserable; let his outward Circumstances be ever so fortunate.

Anthony Cooper, 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury (1671-1713) English politician and philosopher
“An Inquiry Concerning Virtue, or Merit”
Added on 28-Nov-14 | Last updated 28-Nov-14
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PURITANISM: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956) American writer and journalist [Henry Lewis Mencken]
“Arcana Coelestia,” A Mencken Chrestomathy (1949)
Added on 16-Sep-14 | Last updated 2-May-16
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The misery of man proceeds not from any single crush of overwhelming evil, but from small vexations continually repeated.

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) English writer, lexicographer, critic
Lives of the English Poets, “Pope” (1781)
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Added on 1-Aug-14 | Last updated 1-Aug-14
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Misery is almost always the result of thinking.

Joseph Joubert (1754-1824) French moralist
Pensées (1838) [ed. Auster (1983)]
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How long is life to the wretched, how short for the happy!

Publilius Syrus (d. 42 BC) Assyrian slave, writer, philosopher [less correctly Publius Syrus]
Sententiae [Moral Sayings], # 621 [tr. Lyman (1862)]
Added on 27-Jul-11 | Last updated 20-Feb-17
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It is a consolation to the wretched to have companions in misery.

Publilius Syrus (d. 42 BC) Assyrian slave, writer, philosopher [less correctly Publius Syrus]
Sententiae [Moral Sayings], # 995
Added on 30-Apr-08 | Last updated 20-Feb-17
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Fellowship in woe doth woe assuage.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
“The Rape of Lucrece,” l. 790 (1594)
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Nobody really cares if you’re miserable, so you might as well be happy.

Other Authors and Sources
Cynthia Nelms
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We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same.

Carlos Casteneda (1931-1999) Peruvian-American writer, mystic, anthropologist
The Teachings of Don Juan (1968)

Also attributed to Journey to Ixtlan (1972).
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When will our consciences grow so tender that we will act to prevent human misery rather than avenge it?

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
“My Day” (16 Feb 1946)
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The miserable have no other medicine
But only hope.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
Measure for Measure, Act 3, Scene 1 (1604)
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